When TCL chose not to renew the licence allowing it to make BlackBerry phones earlier this year, it seemed like a once-great smartphone brand might finally be put to rest. But now, a new company has pledged to take up the BlackBerry mantle with promises of releasing a new phone featuring a good ‘ol physical keyboard sometime next year.
In press release today, Austin, Texas-based OnwardMobility announced that it had reached an agreement with both BlackBerry and FIH Mobile Limited (a subsidiary of Foxconn) to create a new 5G BlackBerry Android phone with a physical keyboard. The device is slated to be available in both Europe and North America sometime in the first half of 2021.
That said, this new BlackBerry phone will have slightly different ambitions than the previous BlackBerry handsets produced by TCL, as OnwardMobility is planning to target its BlackBerry phone at businesses and enterprise professionals who want something that delivers both a tactile typing experience and an emphasis on privacy and security.
This makes a lot of sense, as BlackBerry proper has focused primarily on delivering B2B enterprise solutions for security, data management, and digital collaboration since the company exited the consumer phone business in 2016.
When it comes to producing a new BlackBerry phone, OnwardMobility CEO Peter Franklin said, “Enterprise professionals are eager for secure 5G devices that enable productivity, without sacrificing the user experience. BlackBerry smartphones are known for protecting communications, privacy, and data.”
BlackBerry CEO John Chen also issued similar sentiments, saying that “BlackBerry is thrilled OnwardMobility will deliver a BlackBerry 5G smartphone device with physical keyboard leveraging our high standards of trust and security synonymous with our brand. We are excited that customers will experience the enterprise and government level security and mobile productivity the new BlackBerry 5G smartphone will offer.”
So while it’s nice to see the BlackBerry name get revived once again, this new device may not be a huge help for the average consumer who just wants an modern smartphone with a physical keyboard. Those users are forced to turn to even more niche products like the Unihertz Titan or the FX Pro 1, both of which feature somewhat-outdated specs and questionable support for software updates.
Then again, phones with physical keyboards are becoming a lot like cars with manual transmissions: There are always going to be a small number of die-hards who won’t settle for anything else, but as popularity for those features continues to dwindle, it’s hard to imagine they will ever make a real comeback.